The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Review of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
June 16, 2017

This memorandum updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on the progress of the review of the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education launched the review in July 2016 with the goal of adopting new standards by 2018 and developing a statewide assessment of those standards by 2020.

The review process consists of six phases:

Below is a description of progress on Phase 1 of the project to date.

Phase 1 Activities

Phase 1 began with the Department conducting outreach to stakeholders in two ways: through the creation of a statewide Review Panel and through an online survey. First, in early July 2016, the Department solicited applications for participation in the History and Social Science Review Panel, whose primary charge is "to articulate recommendations for revising the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework." In late July 2016, the Department selected 43 panelists from over 160 applicants from across the state.

Panel members are K-12 teachers, department heads and curriculum coordinators, K-12 administrators, and higher education faculty with deep knowledge of the content. The members bring expertise in teaching various ages and populations of students, including those with disabilities and English learners. Panel members are broadly representative of various geographic regions across the Commonwealth, types of district (e.g. urban, suburban, rural), types of schools (e.g., charter, vocational-technical), and professional organizations (e.g., MA Council for the Social Studies).

In addition to engaging stakeholder feedback through the Review Panel, in early November 2016, the Department posted an online survey to solicit public input on aspects of the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework. The survey was posted on the Department's website from November 1, 2016-February 6, 2017 and provided an opportunity for respondents to share feedback on a variety of issues, including the usefulness of the framework in supporting curriculum and instruction, appropriateness of the number and level of detail of the standards, and degree of difficulty of the standards.

In December 2016, the Department retained Abt Associates to analyze survey responses, synthesize feedback from stakeholders across the state, conduct a cross-state comparison of other states' revisions to standards, and document the revision process to date. The following sections summarize the key Phase 1 activities conducted from January through May 2017.

First Review Panel Meeting: January 19, 2017

The Department convened the first Review Panel meeting with the goal of orienting the panel to the charge and context for the review, setting a common understanding of the framework and the public survey, and gaining initial input on the vision and overall structure of the framework. The discussion included an overview of the panel's charge; a description of the six phases of the project; the role of these standards in a standards-based system; and recent civics initiatives, including the efforts of the Board's Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement, the Civic Learning and Engagement Task Force, and the Civics Literacy Conference. Consistent with the Board's direction, improving civic engagement and learning is a major impetus for the revision of the framework. Panel members made initial recommendations relative to the effectiveness of the current vision, themes, and structure of the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

Public Survey

The public survey closed on February 6, 2017 with 1,434 individuals completing responses. In mid-February, Abt Associates completed an analysis on results related to the overall structure and effectiveness of the framework in supporting teaching and learning. Initial findings included:

Second Review Panel Meeting: March 9, 2017

In preparation for the second Review Panel meeting, the Department asked panelists to complete three assignments: 1) review public survey findings, 2) review revisions to history/social science frameworks in other states, and 3) complete a survey indicating their top three recommendations for revisions to the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework.

The Department provided the panel with the following information for these assignments. First, the Department shared Abt Associates' preliminary analysis of the public survey responses (described above) with panel members and asked them to review and prepare observations and questions about selected findings. Second, the Department asked panel members to review a cross-state analysis of history/social science revisions in other states conducted by Abt Associates. The Abt team reviewed standards in 14 states that had revised their history and social science standards since 2014. Abt then analyzed the elements of vision, organization, skills, and connections to other disciplines included in these states' standards documents. The Abt team identified differences and relevant examples and models from other states' approaches to these elements. For example, Abt found that six of the 14 states' standards are organized by theme, 11 of the 14 states included an inquiry-based approach in their history/social science frameworks, and 13 states included civics standards.

Prior to the March 9th meeting, the Department assigned small groups of panel members to research one of the 14 states, asking panelists to review that state's framework and respond to the following questions:

  1. What core values are expressed in the introduction of the framework?
  2. What is the overall structure and organization of the framework?
  3. How is the content of the framework integrated?
  4. What can we learn from this framework to inform our work as a panel?

At the March 9th meeting, Department staff asked panelists to share the results of their research. Panel members formed groups in which research from each of the 14 states was represented, and together, these groups made recommendations about which elements of which states' revisions they recommended to inform the revision in Massachusetts.

In addition, staff members from Abt Associates presented their analysis of responses to the Public Survey, engaged in discussion with panel members about implications of the survey, and presented an overview of the cross-state analysis of the other states' revisions.

During the meeting, Department staff also presented a summary of the panel's responses to the survey and garnered feedback on the panel's top recommendations for the revision of the framework. The recommendations were to:

Proposed Model for the Revision of the Framework

Based on the public and panel feedback and the analysis conducted by the panels to date, the Department has developed a working model for a revised format of the Framework. The new format is designed both to address some of the main concerns expressed about the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework as well as to facilitate the next phase of the revision when the panel will begin to address some of the main concerns with the content and integration of the grade level standards themselves. Specifically, the proposed model advanced by the Department is responsive to the following concerns with the current framework:

The model consists of a proposed scope and sequence to outline the main content across the grades and a grade level model for the manner in which the content, skills, and practices will be presented at each grade level.

While the scope and sequence is subject to change, it currently includes these aspects:

While the grade level model is also subject to change, it currently includes these elements:

Third Review Panel Meeting: June 14, 2017

In preparation for the June meeting, the Department shared the model with members of the panel and asked them to review the proposed model and respond to guiding questions about: the clarity, rigor, and coherence of the model, as well as the integration of other elements such as inquiry; integration of civics, themes, and literacy skills; and general reactions to the model's adherence to the Review Panel's recommendations.

In addition, the Department has assigned panel members to working groups in order to make recommendations for the revision of the standards.

The goals for the June meeting include:

  1. Gain agreement on the scope and sequence
  2. Gain feedback on the grade level model
  3. Begin to revise the learning standards and develop a set of Practices to include in the revised framework

Planning for Phase 2: Draft and review proposed revisions to the standards

In July 2017 the panel will reconvene and the Department will move into Phase 2 of the project. In preparation for this meeting, the Department will ask panel members to assist in drafting revised standards, and complete additional revisions to other sections of the framework as assigned.

Additional meetings for the HSS Review Panel are planned for:

Over the course of these meetings, panel members will be asked to continue their revision of the learning standards and review other aspects of the framework.

The Department plans to present draft standards to the Board early in 2018 for a vote to invite public comment on them. As the work progresses, the Department remains committed to ensuring that the revised Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework is academically rigorous, comprehensive, and organized in a way that ensures it is useful to educators, promotes learning at high levels, and provides effective preparation for civic life for the nearly one million students in the Commonwealth.